Title: Writing Free
Editor: Irene Staunton
Genre: Short Story Anthology
Publisher: Weaver Press
Writing Free is a collection of fifteen short stories by fifteen Zimbabweans both at home and abroad. The objective of the anthology was '... to approach a topic differently, to turn a perspective inside out. ...' What came out of this project is a successful and bold anthology that completely redefines and expands the width and depth of Zimbabwean literature; one of the best anthologies I have read of all time. Regardless of the usual flagpoles that has become pervasive in Zimbabwean literature, making the country assumes a character-role in most stories, regardless of these flagpoles such as hyperinflation, land reclamation, apartheid, economic depression, politics and finger-pointing, maltreatment of the citizenry by government, several authors took bolder steps to create stories which not only are experimental in nature but are mature both in style and in narration. The authors have fished out ideas from different seas and rivers and streams and lagoons. Unlike previously, when one would have expected a crowding around of topics, here the liberty granted by the objective saw the authors exploring farther.
From Jonathan Brakarsh's Running in Zimbabwe to Emmanuel Sigauke's African Wife, the authors have written a story that would serve as the new motif, the new canvass upon which future writings coming out of this country could possibly be judged. In Tendai Huchu's Crossroads, it is not only the choice of location for the future couples that is keeping them at crossroads, neither is it how much each has to give up to make the possible marriage work that is the crossroads, but the pitching of the past and the present presented in an alternating manner. As the man - a black man - reminisces about his childhood in a town in Zimbabwe he finds ways and means of disabusing his fiancee's mind that his country is not all that negative. Human characters that develop from a reaction between us and our environment play a key role in this dithering; for whereas the man wants a place where people know him and where he can interact, the woman wants a quiet place to raise her children. The Situation by Donna Kerstein presents the state of Zimbabwe as seen from different perspectives, except that they both converges into hope and a new beginning. There are three voices in the story and each should be read through to the end. Here, the Zimbabwean situation was presented with a different kind of eye. The author was candid and pleased neither sides. The first tread ends with 'Perhaps finally the situation is looking up.'; the third ends with 'Exiles are slowly returning: life is coming back.' This third thread was written like a BBC reporter reporting from Zimbabwe and though the reporter tries hard to skewed the facts, he/she couldn't change most of the facts forever and so in the end had to succumb to these facts. Written in a very poetic voice, this story is one of the most interesting in the collection. The situation is alternatively presented in Jonathan Barkarsh's Running in Zimbabwe, which presents different scenarios of people on the run: metaphorically or literally. The story, however, converges into a demonstration against the government resulting from the epileptic supply of electricity and water and a decline in sanitary conditions. Eyes On, by Fungisayi Sasa, follows the format of Kerstein's story; however, this is a bi-racial love story, between a black guy and a white girl, from two different perspectives. These perspectives are interwoven in the story and should be read individually. The girl's voice is again poetic and brilliant. The author voiced out the girl's thoughts. The boy has been told by his mother never to bring a white woman home as a wife and if he can't find a good Zimbabwean girl to marry he should inform her, she - the mother - will get one for him. But the boy fell for a white girl. In the story it was as if this girl was following her, but it could be his imagination playing tricks with him. Emmanuel Sigauke's African Wife is about the struggles of young man who married a white American girl and moved to Sacramento. The struggles were about finding work - his certificate is worth nothing here - and fitting in with his African 'brothers' who considered his union with the white lady as a marriage of convenience (to get him the required papers) with no guarantee of happiness.
Ignatious Mabasa's The Novel Citizen is one funny story that expands the meaning of 'writer's block'. What do you do when characters you've created leap off the page and refuse to be written about? In this story we meet one such writer who has refused to be written about and demanding freedom (of speech and of action) from the writer. He bemoans why writers put words into their mouths and kill them whenever they want. Miss McConkey of Bridgewater Close by Petina Gappah is about an encounter between a student and her teacher years after an incident caused the school's apartheidist policy to breakdown. The story explores the early days after independence and few blacks were entering into what previously used to be white-only enclaves and schools opened up to black pupils. It has hints of the latter stages of the struggle. Shamisos by NoViolet Mka is about an emigre who was burnt to death during South Africa's xenophobic uprisings. The pathos in the story comes from the knowledge that this event - not exactly that which has been described - was true. It shows how our failing economic conditions can easily suffocate our humanity. Ethel Kawabato's Time's Footrpints is about a man who went to exile after being chased by government forces. Back home his wife succumbed to cancer. The author somewhat succeeded to turn this semi-political story into a domestic one; for it was more like the man rejected the family after he went into exile.
Each of these stories carries enough verve around it. The Donor's Visit by Sekai Nzenza is about a community that has been summoned to gather at a place for (food) handouts with some of the girls being used for research studies by the donors. More importantly, it highlights Zimbabwe's inability to feed its people and the gradual decline from a food-surplus nation to a food-deficit one that needs handouts to survive. The political bifurcation - ZANU-PF and MDC - was mentioned. Christopher Mlalazi's When the Moon Stares tells the story of a family that was burnt to death for differing political support. The story was narrated by a child whose parents are related to the victims. Danfo Driver by Ambrose Musiyiwa is about the loss of ones aspirations due to poverty. A boy is asked what he will be in future and he says 'A combi driver'. Blessing Musarir's Eloquent Notes on a Suicide: Case of the Silent Girl, which is a quasi surreal story about a girl who committed suicide. Several years prior to her death, the girl went silent and never talked to anyone. The investigator suspected foul play from her parents, and the author provided hints of a foul play though nothing was discovered. Could this girl be a metaphor for Zimbabwe?
An Intricate Deception by Daniel Mandishona and The Missing by Isabella Matambandzo complete the collection. The former is about a man who is having extramarital affair and the problem it is causing his marriage. He stays away from home one night, on his usual drinking and womanising spree. He meets one of his several girls whom he takes home. Then there was a power cut and the man, unwilling to do anything with this girl, decides to go home to his pregnant wife. A commentary of world events is given alongside the man's story. The latter story is more about a search for an individual. Isabella's story is best captured in her own words:
My story, 'The Missing', focuses on a couple's romantic reminiscences which are disrupted by an unexpected, yet common event. Set in a country where ghosts still live, this is an intimate story about children in search of their mysterious past. A truth they can never quite know, or discover. A truth that cannot be laid to a peaceful rest but one that will certainly set them free.
Though the borders of the story were expanded in this collection, they were relatable. A common theme that runs through this anthology is this characteristic. This collection of short stories deserves to be read.
Read for the African Literature Reading Challenge.